How to identify jumping worms, prevent them and what to do if you've discovered them in your garden

What are jumping Worms??

Note: The above was determined to be an ordinary earthworm - sedate and almost sleepy when I lifted it from the soil in my blueberry patch.

Jumping worms have been in the US for quite some time, imported to the US probably on plant roots. However the recent concern has arisen because they seem to be spreading quite rapidly at this time. They resemble the "normal" earthworms and nightcrawlers which we are accustomed to seeing in the garden. It is interesting to note that earthworms are not native either. Because they can be helpful in speeding the decay of humus (decomposing leaves and other plant material) into soil nutrients, we have come to think of them as beneficial.

The difference with jumping worms is that they tend to appear in much greater numbers and have voracious appetites. This can create soil devoid of all nutrition affecting plant growth. These worms are likely to be devastating to the forest landscape here in Vermont as it is dependent on very slow decay which consistently feeds the many native plants and trees. Areas where they have invaded show a lack of low growing plants in forested areas. Some groves, such as hemlock stands, are naturally devoid of low growing plants, so look for a change from the norm.

As a gardener, jumping worms can cause slow growth, plant failure and reduced harvest. They can also destroy the earthworms and nightcrawlers to which we are accustomed.

Identifying Jumping Worms

This video was sent by a fellow gardener wondering if this might be an example of the jumping worm.

A first sign of jumping worms can be an unusual texture of the soil, which looks like coffee grounds. This is the worm castings (poop). You would also likely note an absence of bits of decaying matter - bits of grass or other decaying matter that you typically see in your garden.

If you are digging, pulling weeds or harvesting root vegetables and see a worm that is more active than the normal earthworm, you can suspect it is likely a jumping worm. I have developed the habit of picking up any worm and having a look at it before deciding it is benign.

Jumping worms are often present in numbers in an area. Pick the worm(s) up by hand or with your trowel and place in a container. Relax, take your time and have a good look. These worms are not poisonous nor can they hurt you so there is no need to be nervous about handling them. They are pretty good climbers so don't leave them in an open container as they can escape pretty quickly.

When disturbed by a touch, a jumping worm will thrash around. This is the most identifying feature of jumping worms. A regular earthworm may move but with a slower, sedate movement.

Examine the worm closely. On a jumping worm, the clitellum (band of tissue near the head which contains reproductive organs) closely encircles the entire body. In an ordinary earthworm, it is raised and is only on top.

Preventing Jumping Worm Infestation

The best way to deal with jumping worms is to prevent infestation in the first place.

Plant Roots

Jumping worms often arrive on plant roots. Purchase bare root plants and grow your own vegetable and flower seedlings if possible.

You can wash potted plant roots in three changes of water but because the eggs are minute, it can be difficult to be sure you have eliminated all of them. Also, the eggs may still be present in the wash water, so your wash water could spread them wherever you dump it. Heat is the only known way to kill the eggs (100 degrees +) for several hours.

Buying worms

Don't buy worms advertised as jumping worms, crazy worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers for any purpose. When buying worms, ask!

Solarize Your Soil Amendments

Watch carefully for jumping worms and the coffee grounds texture in any material You are considering for addition to your soil. They love compost, manure, leaf litter and mulch because of the high volume of organic matter.

Solarize bags of potting soil by leaving them in full bright sunlight for 3 days. Temperatures above 100 degrees will kill the worms and eggs.

Solarize compost by laying down a tarp. Place material 4 - 6 inches deep on the tarp. Pull in the edges and add another tarp, tucking the top tarp under the bottom one. Leave for 3 days in full sun.

Solarizing in the garden can be helpful in killing eggs, but the worms likely just leave the area if they find it too hot.

What to do if you find Jumping Worms in your soil

There are some things you can do.

If possible, take photos and video and also photos of the soil where you found them.

Destroy the worms in one of the following ways:

Place in a tightly sealed plastic bag and either leave it in the sun or place it in the freezer. Then discard the entire bag in the trash.

Drop them into alcohol, vinegar or water mixed with a squirt of dishsoap.

It won't completely solve the problem, but can help to control the population in that any you kill will not reproduce.

Solarize the area where you found them:

Solarizing probably won't kill adult worms as they will probably just move on to a cooler area. But it will kill eggs. The adults will die over winter.

Solarizing is likely most effective in the spring because the adults will be dead and the eggs unhatched. But solarizing the area can help at any time to reduce the number of eggs.

To solarize the area, cover the area with clear plastic and leave it there in the heat of the sun for 3 weeks.

Report suspected jumping worms

Upload photos of jumping worms you find to to help track the invasive species.

Picking Herbs


Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Preserving Herbs

We've just experienced quite a flood here in Vermont! And still most days have a mild to moderate rain shower. The hours for gardening have been brief for weeks and one must optimize them. After a recent rain shower and more in the forecast, I decided to harvest some garden herbs. As the rain came down, I worked indoors to clean and preserve my harvest.

My little herb garden has grown each year and now contains some hearty perennials -

Horseradish - won't be harvested until late October or early November.
Thyme ready to harvest
Sage ready for harvesting
Spearmint ready for harvest.

Harvesting in mid summer is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Many herbs have a spreading habit and can create chaos in the herb garden. Pruning contains plant growth, ensures adequate sunshine, prevents crowding, and allows for adequate air flow. Giving the plants more room helps to prevent bacterial and fungal infections in plants which can occur under crowded conditions.
  • You get fresh herbs to use now!
  • Pruning encourages fresh plant growth and removes areas of insect damage and dead foliage which can become havens for pests and disease.
  • Makes future harvesting easier
  • Delays blooming which degrades the quality of the leaves as the plant redirects all of its energy to making seeds.
  • Pruning off diseased or insect damaged parts helps to determine whether the damage is ongoing.

How to harvest:

Note the branching growth pattern of this mint (Before). A new shoot emerges above each leaf. You want to clip the stem just above a leaf joint - where the leaf meets the stem (During). What remains are two side shoots which will develop rapidly (After). Many herbs grow this way and benefit from this same type of pruning.

Mint Needing Pruning
Spearmint crowding the horseradish showing the need for pruning

This mint is crowding the horseradish and because of all the recent rain, one of my goals with this harvest is to let the sun in and improve airflow around the plants to help them recover from excessive rainfall. The mint will make a lovely tea, fresh or dried for winter use.


The spots on the horseradish leaves look like Alternaria or Cercospora spot, both are common fungal pathogens affecting horseradish and worsened by wet weather. Horseradish will not be harvested until late October or early November.

Basket of Herbs
A basket of thyme harvested in the same way as mint.

Collect your herbs in a towel lined basket or basin and add a fresh towel between types of herbs to make separating them in the kitchen easier. The black spotting on this thyme will be clipped off in the kitchen before washing. As the rain begins to fall, it's time to head to the kitchen to clean and dry the harvest

Now to the kitchen to clean and preserve our herbs!!

When bad things happen to good plants

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will.

Your plants are doing nicely and then disaster strikes. Your plants have been nibbled, gobbled or are just looking very sad. Dead, even.

And let’s face it, a quick fix is an appealing response. But before you reach for the chemicals or even organic-approved remedies, it can be well worth it to pause first and do some research.

Here’s a common example.

Your lush tomato plants have a bare spot with just stems remaining. Looking closely, you see the telltale caterpillar droppings. You stand and stare and then you see it, perfectly camouflage against the lovely green leaves, munching away happily. Or dozing and dreaming of his next meal of delectable tomato foliage. 

The Tomato Hornworm

Meet the tomato hornworm. He has a voracious appetite for your tomato plants and can be almost as large as your index finger. He can clear a large area of foliage from a plant in a day and will even eat his way across a green tomato if it is in his path. And wow, can he ever hold onto the vine. 

There are several things you can do about this pest, but it is important to pause before you reach for the insecticide. There are many pests that will trouble your garden and it is important to make sure that the solution isn’t causing problems as well. 

BT (Bacillus Thurengensis aka Thuricide) is an effective way to kill tomato hornworm caterpillars. It is approved for organic gardening, why not? 

  1. It has not been well proven that BT does not affect the human digestive system
  2. BT seems to disorient bees that happen to ingest BT 
  3. The tomato hornworm grows into a Manduca quinquemaculata (hawkmoth, aka hummingbird moth which feeds on nectar and thus serves as a pollinator)
  4. In killing this one tomato hornworm, you may be killing parasitic wasps that would go on to get rid of many tomato hornworms
  5. There are are easy ways to control the problem without using pesticides. 

My gardening motto is to always go with the least intrusive approach first:

In the case of the tomato hornworm, you have several options:

  1. Before you do anything at all, observe the caterpillar closely. If you see little white protrusions, you should leave the caterpillar alone. These white spots are parasitic wasp eggs. If allowed to hatch, they will develop into more such insects that will target and kill other hornworm caterpillars and pests in your garden.This caterpillar will not live long if it is covered in parasitic wasps. 
  1. Spraying with BT is definitely an option. 

Spraying in the evening may be helpful as it will help to avoid bees getting into it.

Spraying the caterpillar won’t do anything at all. They must eat it, so spray out ahead of the caterpillar as he eats as he goes.

  1. Handpick the caterpillars - they hold on tight. I usually just clip off the stem they are on. You can try to relocate them to another nightshade plant, such as tomatoes or tobacco that you have started far away from your garden for this purpose

4) If you are not averse to killing them, you can feed them to your chickens where they will be greatly enjoyed and provide an important food source. Or you can simply drop them in a bucket or water with a few drops of dish soap stirred into it. 

Another pesky pest is the Cabbage Looper. Similar to the tomato hornworm, it feeds on your cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, rutabaga, brussels sprouts) while in its larval form. If you do nothing, the loopers will devour your plants. 

Cabbage Looper damage on cabbage
Cabbage Looper damage

The worst part is that they will also show up on your plate and that is just not fun.

Before BT, there was no organic solution and my dad was organic before organic was cool. My mom used to soak the affected vegetables in 1-2 TBSP salt in a gallon of water in a large bowl. The salt made the loopers float to the surface so they could be removed. This method works pretty well, especially if you cut apart large heads of broccoli or cauliflower so the worms are easily freed from between the stems.

There are a couple things you can do about cabbage loopers:

  1. Grow your cruciferous vegetables under lightweight floating row cover. The moths can’t fly in and lay their eggs which develop into caterpillars.  This has the disadvantage of being made of spun polyester which is being shown to leave behind microplastics. It also can be rather a nuisance to remove the cover to weed or harvest or check the plants.
  1. Use a BT spray on your plants about 1x week as soon as you see damaged leaves. This is my method of choice. It is much simpler than row cover and very effective. Remove flower heads (ie broccoli and cauliflower, for example)  before they open or stop spraying. Avoid getting BT spray on other flowering plants.

My honeybees love broccoli flowers and I don’t want them eating BT tainted nectar or worse yet taking the pollen home to feed their larvae. It makes sense to me, although I haven’t yet researched it, that what destroys the digestive system of one larval form of insect (such as  tomato hornworms and cabbage loopers) would also damage my honeybee larvae.

Either of these solutions has drawbacks. It is up to us to decide which to employ and to continue to do our research for new products, new information. 


Here in the northeast, the most troublesome “critters” are:

White-tail deer who leaps easily over the average garden fence.

It can be helpful to use odor repellants, but they must be repeated frequently especially after the rain. The best solution I have found is putting up a second fence (not necessarily electric) about 4’ outside of the electric fence. My understanding is that a deer will not leap if there is not a clear landing on the other side. This has worked well in my garden, although it causes inconvenience to mowing. 


Woodchuck who is sometimes stopped by a garden fence Good garden hygiene is important to deter this pesky pest. He does not like to be out in the open so well mowed areas are not his friend. A garden swamped in weeds provides a lot of hiding spaces. 

One year I saw this woodchuck with her four little (extremely adorable) babies. I decided to leave them alone and I had a big problem for years afterwards. They destroyed my garden completely for two years. One day in exasperation, I fell upon a solution. 

I was outside carrying a bucket of used cat litter to dump it where it could decompose. I almost stepped into a new woodchuck hole. I was so annoyed to find yet another burrow entrance. I upended the bucket of stinky litter right into the hole. He never redug it. And by the end of two more years I had discouraged most of them off my property. I still have trouble occasionally, but keeping things well mowed and treating the holes with cat litter is very helpful. 

Voles are similar in appearance to mice. In the garden you see small holes in the ground and chewed plants nearby. They are not easy to trap. Here is the solution. You bait a snap trap with peanut butter and set it a few inches from the hole. Then cover the hole and the bucket with a pail or over cover so the trap and hole are in the dark. Check daily.  Toss the rodent out of the way or into the compost. Be persistent until you see no more damage. If you close holes as you go, you will be able to see what ones are still in use.

Please do not use poisons to get rid of small animals on your property. It takes a long time to kill them with poison and it ends up in the bellies of raptors who have a rough enough go of it without being slowly poisoned by ineffective ways of getting rid of rodents. 

What pests are causing problems in your garden? Drop a line. Ask a question.


Are all forms of Bt toxin safe?
Tomato Hornworm

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